When Bad Things Happen to “Good” Data Centers

When Bad Things Happen to “Good” Data CentersRemember when you were a kid and one of your friends would get in trouble right in front of you, or worse, you got in trouble in front of your friends. Feet shuffling, eyes quickly cast away from the transgressor, uncomfortable silence punctuated by a few awkwardly mumbled words, no one knowing how to act while the victim was carted off to a punishment that could only be imagined, and escalated, by each witnesses’ inflated account of what their own parent would do to them. One time, when I was playing football after lying particularly spectacularly to my mother, my dad rode my Schwinn bike up to the field to “retrieve me”. Naturally, my friends saw him first, and I became aware of his presence when I noticed their eyes were all quickly shifting from me to something off in the distance. Since middle-aged men don’t normally ride their son’s bike up to the field just to watch a game of touch it was pretty evident that my playing time was about to be severely curtailed. My dad was greeted with a few hushed, “Hello, Mr. Crosby’s” before my personal speed walk of shame commenced with a terse “Home. Now”. At school none of my friends could think of a way to ask me about what happened (I still have the strap marks) or comment on the incident at all. I was left to bear my punishment alone with no kind words to ease my humiliation. This leads me to my point. What do we say when bad things happen to good data centers?

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about natural disasters here. No, I’m talking about your basic “Oh my God the data center’s down. What are we going to do now?” event. So let’s think about it. No one goes into work and says, “I think it’s time that we get our Tier III standard 45 minutes of annual downtime out of the way today”. There are certainly easier, and less painful, ways to gain your fifteen minutes of fame. But what is there to say when a data center goes down? The affected customers, of course, will provide their opinions. These will typically include language that you didn’t learn at your mother’s knee and allusions that include legal terminology like “breach of contract” and “suing you for everything you’ve got”. The press will report on it because, like it or not, it is news. The data center provider in question will issue any number of releases trying to explain what happened that basically amount to providing the same level of reassurance as saying, “I promise it won’t happen again. Honest”. The only true galvanizing effect of said provider’s misfortune is that the rest of us will all utter a collective “Man, I’m glad we’re not those guys”.

Is this there for the grace of God go I mentality really the best way to support our brothers in arms? Probably not. However, is there any salve for the wounds these poor guys incur? “Better luck next time” just doesn’t seem to cut it, and sending flowers is too funereal and these folks feel bad enough already. The ever popular “it could happen to anybody” is an option but that only seems to make you feel good when you’re saying it to someone else. I suppose you could try to send them one of those funny cards, but sophomoric references to good times, drinking and libido enhancements just aren’t as funny when you’re wondering what the value of all those Linked-In connections might be.

I guess there really is nothing we can say to those suffering through a bout of data center “unavailability”. Unfortunately, bad things do happen to good data centers. Perhaps the only way to deal with these instances is to use them as cautionary tales when speaking to others about the importance of the KISS principle for design and operations. Maybe the real purpose of these types of instances isn’t to encourage our sense of empathy and compassion but rather to instill in us that tiny element of fear that keeps us on the correct path. Just like when we were kids, no one wants to the object of the phrase, “look what happened to that guy” so keep it simple, and never lie to Mom.